The (Im)Morality Of Climate Change Advocacy

In matters of AGW, are the poor of the world going to get the wrong end of the stick no matter what?

A relatively long letter by a Rebecca Harris from Washington has been published in the Aug 4, 2009 print edition of the International Herald Tribune, under the title “World Bank: A Carbon Bigfoot“. Ms Harris obviously wants to convince the World Bank to become AGW-friendly:

The World Bank continues to promote development models based on a prolonged reliance on fossil fuels, illustrated by its 59 percent increase in fossil fuel lending over the last three years. Every additional coal investment ensures future greenhouse gas emissions for the multiple-decades-long lifespan of the coal plant. If the rest of the world is talking emissions targets at long last, why is the World Bank playing saboteur?

The bank must accept its role in transitioning countries onto a low-carbon development trajectory by shifting its energy investments away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy projects. Developed and developing countries alike will be held to increasingly stringent emissions standards in the coming years. World Bank investments in renewable energy now will lessen the burden developing countries will face in meeting these standards in the future.

Talk about a peculiar strategy: the World Bank would have to help people develop (i.e. get out of poverty) but not in a coal-using way. One suspects the development course (the getting out of poverty) will only be slower than it would be with an unfettered use of coal. But wouldn’t that make people poorer, that is more vulnerable to climate change?

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Who is Rebecca Harris? The (print) letter refers to a “Bank Information Center”. Google sends to a (single entry?) blog on “Foreign Policy”, where Ms Harris is indicated as “information services coordinator at the Bank Information Center (www.bicusa.org)“.

In its website, the BIC (lists Rebecca Harris’ letter high in the Updates section, and) defines itself as the following:

The Bank Information Center partners with civil society in developing and transition countries to influence the World Bank and other international financial institutions to promote social and economic justice and ecological sustainability

Notably, they promote social and economic “justice”, whatever that is. Coupling that mysterious concept to “ecological sustainability”, it seems the fact that people might as well remain poor is of no much importance to BIC.

Back to climate change: under “In the Spotlight” there is an entry on the World Bank with the following words:

BIC’s Climate Change Campaign will focus on shifting the World Bank Group’s (WBG) energy sector strategy/portfolio away from fossil fuels and toward the financing of renewable energy and energy efficiency

Going around the BIC site, one discovers also their “Strategic Plan 2009-2012“. They describe 3 Campaigns for the period, one of them about Climate Change, with the following “desired outcomes”:

WBG supports global transition to lower-carbon energy production by reducing its fossil fuel lending and increasing financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency
Climate Investment Funds and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility are governed transparently and consistently with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) principles and decisions
Civil society partners have deeper understanding of the role of the WBG in both contributing to and mitigating climate change.

Curiously, the underlying challenge is publicly acknowledged

With an estimated 1.6 billion people in developing countries without access to electricity, the Bank‟s approach to energy sector investments must balance climate change concerns with availability of energy for the poor.

So far so good..electricity it should be, then, but not from coal? Yet the same Rebecca Harris makes a different point in a July 30, 2009 letter published by The Washington Post (berating George F Will):

[…] development need not be sacrificed in the name of climate change. In 2008, the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group found that there is no significant trade-off between climate change mitigation and energy access for the world’s poorest. The provision of basic electricity services for the world’s unconnected households would add only a third of one percentage point to global greenhouse gas emissions! […]

I am definitely puzzled now…if the “provision of basic electricity services for the world’s unconnected households would add only” 0.3% to GHG emissions, why would it be wrong for the World Bank to finance coal-using projects to do just that?

Let’s see if the February 10, 2009 BIC study “World Bank Loans Exacerbate Climate Change” clarifies anything:

The assessment finds that even with important gains in renewable energy and energy efficiency in recent years, the World Bank Group’s overall lending approach to the energy sector does not support developing countries’ transition towards a low-carbon development path

Once again, BIC show that what they worry about, is for developing countries to develop but only and strictly along a (forced) “low-carbon development path“.

Even that 0.3% is 0.3% too much…because in matters of AGW, the poor of the world are going to get the wrong end of the stick, no matter what.